It's not implausible that the outcome in Florida's U.S. Senate race this year could determine whether the winner in the presidential election is working with a Democratic or Republican Senate.
Yet for a contest so crucial, the Sunshine State's Senate race has been low-key. The candidates, incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican challenger Connie Mack IV, are largely to blame. The two held their one and only debate last week after turning down other invitations for joint appearances.
That leaves us, and voters, with their records and their campaign platforms to consider. On that basis, Florida would be much better off re-electing Bill Nelson.
Nelson is a veteran public servant — a two-term U.S. senator, former state insurance commissioner, U.S. House member and state legislator.
In the Senate, Nelson has been a champion for NASA and Florida's role in the U.S. space program. A law he co-authored in 2010 wisely extended the life of the International Space Station and supported the development of commercial spacecraft, both positive developments for Florida and the space program as a whole.
Nelson has helped protect Florida's coastal environment, tourism economy and military training areas from offshore oil drilling. A law he and then-U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida got passed in 2006 still keeps rigs at least 125 miles from Florida's Gulf Coast. He helped block efforts in 2010 to breach the buffer.
This year Nelson and Florida's junior U.S. senator, Republican Marco Rubio, helped get a law passed that directs 80 percent of the billions of dollars in fines due from the 2010 BP oil spill to Florida and other Gulf states for environmental and economic recovery. Some of those funds will be available for Everglades restoration, another goal for which Nelson has helped to line up federal dollars.
Nelson's other priorities in this campaign — including energy independence, consumer protection, job creation, cyber security and deficit reduction — are sensible. We're hoping that he will become more of a leader in the Senate, as a member of both the Budget and Finance committees, in efforts to broker a long-term budget deal. For a veteran senator, he has been too timid on controversial national issues.
But Mack, a four-term U.S. House member from Fort Myers, has virtually no legislative accomplishments to call his own. His best known initiative, a balanced budget proposal called "The Penny Plan," has gone nowhere. A cuts-only approach, it could whack trillions of dollars from Medicare, Social Security and the Pentagon.
Mack seems to be hoping that voters will go to the polls thinking they've got another chance to vote for his popular father, Connie Mack III, who represented Florida for two terms in the U.S. Senate. The younger Mack has even borrowed a page from his father's political playbook, branding Nelson a "lockstep liberal" with President Obama.
It's true that Nelson cast votes for the president's stimulus package in 2009 and health-care overhaul in 2010, but so did every other Democrat in the Senate. Independent analysts, including the National Journal, have ranked Nelson among the Senate's more moderate Democrats.
With moderates an endangered species on Capitol Hill, it would be a loss for Florida and the nation if voters kicked out a centrist like Nelson in favor of a partisan like Mack.
We endorse Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun